Sunday, June 17, 2012

Be a Better Dad, Read a Novel...

Fathers Day’s got me thinking. There just aren’t many great fathers in the world of literature. Scan your bookshelves and tell me how many decent, loving fathers you come across. You’ll find that the dearth of dads is pretty striking. It seems we get better stories when our fathers are dead, cruel, or out of the picture altogether. Even when they’re there, they tend to be hapless milquetoasts (I’m looking at you, Tom Joad Sr.) There’s a lot more tension that way. And it lets the main character figure things out on their own.

But of those select few who can be held up as examples, I think you’d have to put To Kill A Mockingbird’s  Atticus Finch right at the top of the list. A quick perusal of that book can give some great pointers to those of us trying to figure out fatherhood. Channel Mr. Finch, and you’re well on your way.

For example, teach your kids to read. Teach them to respect their elders. Teach them all about life. But most of all, teach them by example. Don’t be afraid to take a principled stand. Sure, today’s casting directors will put Latinos, Asians, and wheelchair-bound Aborigines in just about every show they watch on tv, but nothing says ‘racism isn’t cool’ like defending a falsely-accused black man when the whole town is forming a lynch mob.

Treat your kids with fairness. Show them what integrity means. At the same time, respect their need to understand the rationale behind all your silly rules. 

Let your kids be kids. Let your girls be tomboys. Give them a long leash and let them explore the world around them.

But know when to give that leash a tug. (Hint, if they’re using a fishing pole to drop provocative messages into your neighbors’ back window, they’ve probably overstepped some important boundaries.)

Be humble. If you’re the deadest shot in Maycomb County you don’t have to go bragging about it. Just be ready to take care of business when mad dogs come to tear your kids to shreds. You never know when the Sheriff’s going to crap his pants under the pressure of a “one shot deal.”

I could go on and on. Is Atticus perfect? Definitely not. But where he has faults we can also learn from his mistakes. 

For instance, when the town lowlife swears revenge on you and your family, don’t just wipe his loogie of your face and say you’re too old to fight. Put the bastard out of commission, because sooner or later he’ll come after your kids, and unless they happen to don protective giant ham costumes made of chicken wire, or unless your reclusive neighbor can put a kitchen knife between his ribs, well, things probably won’t end well.

Oh, and maybe this was okay to do with old ladies during the Depression, but nowadays you probably shouldn’t lend your kids out to the neighborhood morphine addict to help wean him or her off their special sauce.

Anything I missed? Any other great fathers from land of literature? As a dad myself, I’d love to hear more…


  1. Biblioklept has 5 more suggestions. Check them out:

  2. I love this post! I have always admired Pa Ingalls- but I suppose he was a real dad, not a fictional one, so does he still count? While I'm actually not a fan of Pride & Prejudice (a statement that would make most other women gasp in abject horror) I do like Mr. Bennett too... one has to admire any man that can live with six semi-crazed women and retain his sanity.

    1. Mr. Bennett's a good one. I've never read the Little House books, but Michael Landon seemed a decent enough dad on tv.